Acceptance Speech

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses,

I feel deeply touched by everything here; by being in this Palace; by being given the Erasmus Prize; by listening to the music.

I am particularly touched by this prize because it is named after Erasmus, a man that a few centuries ago was one of the free spirits of our European culture, one of the bâtisseurs of the European culture, working with Italian people, with Thomas More, another great man. And there was another man, in the same period in Italy (who did not actually have much contact with Erasmus), working between Florence, Venice and Padova, that was Galileo Galilei.

Galileo reminds the words ‘provando e riprovando’, that mean ‘trying and trying again’, and that express so thoroughly the real love, that is also mine, for exploration, for research, for experimentation. It is something very deeply imprinted in my, but I should say our, DNA; it is a part of our culture. This was happening just a few hundred years ago, at the time of the grandfathers of our grandfathers, the day before yesterday, no more than that. And this is certainly one of the reasons why I am mostly touched.

Talking about father and grandfather, I was born in a family of builders, my father was a builder, and my grandfather as well was a builder. I had the chance to grow up in a family where you already know as a child what you are going to be. I spent a lot of time on sites, playing with material, watching with admiration my father, able to build the next day something starting from very rough materials. That was part of my deep education, as well as love for reading, and the chance to live in a small, but antique city, a city with a very rich history, Genoa. Genoa was the Italian republic fighting for centuries against Venice, a fairly powerful strong city, with a very rich and dense historical centre. The love for those old narrow streets, for this dense materialization of history has really been imprinted forever in my eyes, as well as the vision of the harbour. The harbour of Genoa was a great place for me, a place of adventure. I am trying to give you some postcards from my young age: just postcards, but they are very deeply imprinted in the spirit. The city, the old city, the dense city was the place of protection; the harbour was the place of adventure. Adventure, travelling and discovering and going away: a place of a dream. And you all know somebody said that everything has been already invented in the young age, in the childhood, and then you spend the rest of your life digging back from that age, what you have built up. This is certainly what happened to me. Of course there has been a moment when I had to take a decision to tell my father that I wanted to become an architect. He looked at me asking, why I ‘simply’ wanted to become an architect instead of being a builder . An architect is much less than a builder: a builder makes everything, the idea but also the building, makes the calculations, does everything. He was right, the old man, of course, he was absolutely right. I still did the architectural school, but I never forgot those words and this is the reason why my office is called Building Workshop: because it is a place where we mix information, not only about construction, but also about other disciplines. And this is what has been happening for a long time. In the office, in our team we have been working with many people of different provenience, of different disciplines.

Let’s come back here, now, to this great music that has just been played: I feel very happy with this surprise – really a surprise for me – and even if Luciano Berio is not here, I have to thank you, Maestro, for the excellent interpretation. Well, Luciano Berio is one of those men, with whom I discuss music and architecture, finding out how similar are those disciplines: music, literature, art, science. All those things have been mixed together for a long time in my thirty years of professional life. It is amazing to find all the time how similar those professions are. Creativity is very similar for everybody, you have the same kind of anxiety, the same kind of suspense. You have to wait, some time, watching the dark, watching the dark with obstinacy – architects, musicians, engineers, writers. And all those things are really the same, they are actually connecting the work of every artist, of every creative person. Going through my thirty years of professional life, and especially by exchanging experience and making richer experience with all the disciplines, I realize that this has been one of the fundamental points of my experience.

In my life I found many people hostage of mystifications: for instance there is a lot of mythology about the contradiction between freedom and discipline: but when you work with creative people, even of different disciplines, you know that there is no contradiction. As an artist you need freedom, but you also need discipline otherwise you are lost: and therefore these things are not in contradiction, they are actually two presences in the same moment of the creative process. Sometimes, art and technology, they are also seen as contradiction, art being the sacred and technology being just the instrument of art: this is absolutely ridiculous, everybody knows that this is not true. Art and technology are the two faces of the same problem: creation. Creation is actually a circular process. You have an idea, you go to action and from action you go back to the idea and from the idea you go back again to the action. And by doing this you enrich the process. It is ridiculous to believe that technology – tekné, as the Greeks called it – is just the way to put good ideas in place. I always make the example of a good pianist, a good pianist playing the piano with closing his eyes and just playing; and this is only possible because he has so much of technique, tekné, in his hands, that he may even forget about it: he just closes his eyes and he goes, he plays. It is very difficult, then, to say what is art, and what is technique.

Talking about instinct or rationality, there is again a lot of mystification: some time, for example, even after thirty years of profession, I find myself to have an instinctive reaction, but then, when I sit down and think more carefully, I realize that it is not instinctive at all: it is a sort of accumulation of experience, of very carefully and rationally built experience that gives me the possibility to be instinctive. It is not just irrational, it is instinctive, when you have built up this capacity, and the two things are not the one against the other, they are not contradictory.

Finally, and this is probably the most important thing, in this country, in all European countries, there is no contradiction between tradition and modernity. The piece of music we have been listening to is an example of this. Luciano Berio has been going around the world, metaphorically robbing everywhere to take back home those melodies and making a fantastic mixture of modernity and tradition. And this is the great point: tradition and modernity live together. I greatly love exploration, experimentation, modernity, but at the same time I love very much tradition. I have a great, grateful love for tradition and I think that, for all of us, for the entire European culture, certainly for myself, this is really what we should call the spirit of humanism.

Thank you very much.